Wednesday, September 25, 2019

You Can Go Back Again: Pittsburgh Hoagie

So, for those of you who aren't aware, I grew up in an impossibly small, western Pennsylvanian town.  So small, that it was big news when the Walmart moved in. 

When I was 15, we moved to California, a hyper suburban town that literally changed the flowers in city-wide planters every 3 months to keep them fresh and seasonal.  Because of this, Thatboy has always considered me a suburban princess, which is annoying since that's never been how I viewed myself.  I've always vowed to take him the middle of nowhere where I grew up, and this year, when a reunion for the high school I never actually graduated from presented itself, I thought it would be a great chance to show my family how different things were when I was growing up.

We started the trip in Pittsburgh - the nearest airport to the town.  Since it's still a good drive away, I decided we should stay the night and do some exploring of Pittsburgh before heading to my hometown - hopefully timing our drive with a naptime for Thatbaby.

We started out with the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, which I knew would be a big hit with ALL my boys.

Y'all know about my love of all things Henson, right?

We even managed to see the Eric Carle exhibit which was supposed to be over the weekend before we got there. 

I took them on a tour of the city via the Gateway Clipper - something my schools had done with our classes back when I was a kid.

And I knew we had to get them to the top of Mt. Washington via the Dusquene Incline - a trolley that goes up the side of the mountain and upon which Mr. Roger's trolley to the land of imagination was based.

And there was some run-around time at Point State Park fountain.

Our timing was great, because both boys slept almost the whole way to my little town.  Thatboy and I had a great time at my reunion, catching up with some really old friends (like friends I'd known since 2nd grade- they're not old!)

And I gave them a very thorough tour of my town.  It's the birthplace of Jimmy Stewart, so there's Stewart memorabilia everywhere.

Thatboy's favorite is that every street crossing on our main street is Jimmy Stewart's "voice" (it's not really him) telling you to cross.

The kids loved the stairs up to Jimmy Stewart's boyhood home.

View from the top

I took them to the north part of the county, which is where the large Amish population resides and they got a kick out of seeing kids their age in horses and buggies.  The town was having an apple festival complete with some civil war re-enactments.  

There are two main parks my family used to spend time at.  I gave Thatboy some background info and he picked one of them where we let the boys run around, play on the playground, skip rocks, look for turtles, and tadpoles.

When I was trying to figure out what to do with my family for such a long time in such a small town, I stumbled across the fact that there are 4 covered bridges in the county.  When I mentioned it to Thatboy, he was very interested in seeing them.  This was another great nap-time drive for Thatbaby.

One of my friends from waaaay back in elementary school also discovered earlier this summer that 20 miles from town was a WATERFALL!  So we had to make that trek also.

The land was owned by Fred McFeely, grandfather to Mr. Rogers.  And apparently little Fred used to climb over the walls and hang out before the waterfall when he was a child.

So we headed back behind the waterfall too.

When my friend went in June, the falls were much fuller, but it was still pretty cool in September.

And of course, I had to share my childhood favorite foods with them.  Like the frozen custard place that's only open in the summer.

Or Eat 'N Park

Thatkid loved the sandwiches.  He says his favorite part of the trip was Ninth Street Deli - the little corner deli my friends and I used to go and get hoagies from.  He also loved Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh.

Primanti brothers is known for their interesting "toppings" for the sandwiches.  Each sandwich comes with tomatoes, coleslaw, and french fries.

My only complaint about Primanti Brothers is that I'm not terribly impressed with the white bread the sandwiches come on.  Once we got home, I decided to combine Thatkid's two favorites - hoagies and Primanti Bros, into one killer sandwich - a corned beef hoagie topped with french fries, tomatoes, and coleslaw.

Pittsburgh Hoagie
1lb corned beef, sliced
4 oz  Irish cheddar cheese, sliced
1 cup french fries
1 tomato, sliced
1 cup coleslaw
4 hoagie rolls
  1. Slice hoagie rolls in half.  On each roll, layer 1/4 lb corned beef, 1 oz cheese, 1/4 cup french fries, 1/4 of the tomato, and 1/4 cup of coleslaw.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Summercamp: Camping Macaroni and Cheese

I think we have finally figured out this camping with young kids thing.  Really, we figured it out last year, but after doing it twice, I know that it wasn't a fluke.

First, location!  When we've tried to do the kind of camping trips that Thatboy and I used to do before kids we found that being in the middle of nowhere with just wilderness wasn't going to work anymore.  The kids just got too bored.  So now we go to a place with trails right off the campsite.  Near a town for exploration. 

Thatdog is not a morning dog apparently.  Too cold.  But he definitely keeps an eye out anytime one of his pack needs to leave the tent and go to bathroom.

The boys love being in their sleeping bags, and it makes for sweet morning cuddles.

Pro tip #2?  Bring a ton of activities.  When we've had absolute fails of camping trips its because I let Thatboy talk me into the "the kids should just sit and enjoy nature" school of thought.  My kids are too young to just sit and enjoy nature.  So instead or success depends on me bringing a bag of fun stuff for the kids to do.  Slime kits for while we set up the site (bonus since I don't allow them to have slime in our house - it gets everywhere), beads to make necklaces, journals to write or color, and foam dart arrows to keep them occupied in the morning.

We also make use of activities in town, instead of just hanging out at the campsite.  This trip we went to explore an honest to goodness goldmine dating back to the 1870s!

Thatbaby was a little nervous about going in.  I don't blame him, the idea of going down into a mine brought out a little of my claustrophobia.  I convinced him to take a couple steps into the entrance and once he saw it wasn't dark, he was okay with venturing all the way in.

They also got to try their hand at goldmining.  Even though they didn't get to take home the gold they found, they really enjoyed the actually mining process and seeing the gold in their pans.

They much preferred their gem mining experience though.  So much so that this was a repeat from last year.

Their favorite campsite activity is making their walking sticks.  I bring a bunch of washi tape and they wrap it around the walking sticks they find.  This also helps with splinters and cuts from sharp pieces of stick.

Then we use those sticks, along with a scavanger hunt I print out, when we go for family hikes,

The trail we picked this time was so cool and shady.  We got into a big fight with the boys when we suggested a 1 mile hike and they wanted to do a 3 mile hike.  I knew my kids would not make it on a 3 mile hike, and Thatbaby was complaining towards the end of this hike, so I know we made the right choice.

I picked up some color firewood packets to place in our fine.  It made for a really pretty fire at nights.

The most important tip I found to keep kids happy when camping is the food.  It needs to be made quickly.  Gone are the days of slowly cooking food over the open flame, or throwing packets in to be cooked and eaten later.  Of course, they always have patience for s'mores.

But everything else is precooked.  I make ham and cheese croissant sandwiches, freeze them, and then reheat them on our camp stove while I heat up water for hot chocolate.

Same with foil packet dinners.  They're made with cooked chicken, frozen, and then just reheated, which takes less time than cooking the chicken.

And the new trick from this trip was making macaroni and cheese.  If you bring the noodles with you, precooked, then it doesn't take long at all to make the sauce.  I use evaporated milk instead of regular milk because it comes in a can for easy packing, and you don't need to worry about refrigeration.  I also prepackage all the dry ingredients together in a little ziplock or tupperwear so they can just be poured in together.

My family likes breadcrumbs on their macaroni and cheese - I love the little crunch it gives, but since you're not baking it, your best bet is to toast it and bring it, stirring it in at the very end.

Camping Macaroni and Cheese
1 can evaporated milk
3 Tbsp flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 lb macaroni, cooked
1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
toasted panko breadcrumbs
  1. Combine flour, milk, salt and mustard over low heat, stirring.
  2. Stir in the macaroni.
  3. Stir in the cheddar cheese and continue stirring until the cheese is melted.
  4. Spoon into bowls and sprinkle with panko.